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We all know that getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night is essential for optimum health. For many, however, it is easier said than done. Millions of people worldwide struggle with some type of sleep problem or sleep disorder. While some accept their fate, others desperately look for ways to get a good night of sleep.
Sleep affects every single aspect of our lives. A healthy circadian rhythm (which controls our daily schedule of sleep and wakefulness) is crucial to support the health of our brain, immune system, and even our ability to deal with stress. Although we may think that sleep is a nice-to-have luxury that we cannot afford to take the time for because we are too busy, from a health perspective, putting sleep higher on our list of priorities is an absolute must.
Poor sleep increases stress and weakens your immune system
Although it may sound like a cliche, stress is a killer. In fact, chronic stress is a significant risk factor for multiple severe health conditions such as heart disease, depression, and even diabetes. Not getting enough restorative sleep is a huge contributing factor to developing stress-related disorders, such as adrenal fatigue. As you can see, poor sleep and stress go hand-in-hand and improving your sleep is an essential first step in helping you live a healthier life.
Insufficient sleep does not only decrease your ability to deal with stress, it also impairs your immune function. High-quality sleep is critical for a robust immune system that enables a well-balanced immune defense against viruses, bacteria, toxins, and other threats. When you struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia, and circadian rhythm disruption, you can inadvertently interfere with your immune system's healthy functioning.
Here is how to master a perfect night of sleep
Here are five simple steps you can take to enhance your quality of sleep starting today.
1) Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
Remember the circadian rhythm mentioned at the beginning of this article? You can make it easier for your body to set your internal clock by setting a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Did you know that sunlight stops the release of melatonin in your brain?
In the morning, preferably during the first 30 minutes after waking, take the time to step outside and expose yourself to direct sunlight. When you do that, the natural light comes into your eyes, helping your brain synchronize your circadian rhythm. Do your best to stick to the same sleep schedule seven days a week.
2) Exercise regularly
We all know that exercise is good for our health, but few have heard of the connection between physical activity and improved sleep quality. One 12-week study including 131 older adults showed that getting regular exercise during the day can help support circadian rhythm, improve daytime alertness, and enhance sleep quality.
Evening exercise, however, can disrupt sleep because intense physical activity can raise your body temperature. As a general rule, do your best to finish your workout by 4 pm to give you plenty of time to relax and allow your body to get into the state that is best for a good night of sleep.
3) Don't drink coffee past 3 pm
If you enjoy a daily cup of coffee, keep in mind that the half-life of caffeine is about 6 to 8 hours. Why is this relevant? Because if you drink an 8 oz cup of coffee at 3 pm containing about 100 mg of caffeine, at 9 pm, you will still have 50 mg of caffeine in your system.
So what time should you stop the caffeine? If you have a 10 pm bedtime, consider reaching for that last cup of coffee the latest before the afternoon slump hits, which for most happens around 3:00 pm.
4) Reduce nighttime exposure to blue light
A growing body of research suggests that our circadian system is particularly sensitive to the short-wavelength portion of the visible light spectrum - blue light. Multiple studies confirmed that nighttime exposure to blue light reduces melatonin production in the brain. Melatonin, a hormone that your brain produces, helps to synchronize your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
Although blue light offers some therapeutic benefits, from a sleep perspective, however, nighttime exposure to blue light is unquestionably damaging. If you want quality sleep, blocking blue light exposure at night - emitted by smartphones, TV, and computer screens - is very important. Blue light-shields and glasses are quite effective in improving sleep quality as they reduce the melatonin-suppressing effects of blue light. Multiple studies have shown that blue-light blocking glasses protect against LED exposure's negative impact on sleep-wake cycles.
5) Start an evening meditation practice
Meditation is a fantastic tool that is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Naturally, any activity the helps you manage stress, dissolve anxious thoughts, and allows your body and mind to relax is worth exploring. If you struggle with sleep problems, give meditation a try.
Start a meditation practice at bedtime to promote relaxation. If you have never tried meditation before, don't be intimidated, as there are plenty of resources available. You can download a free app on your smartphone, try guided meditations and even practice progressive muscle relaxation.
Lastly, If you have tried some of the above strategies to fix your sleep troubles, and you don’t notice much improvement, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about the various nutritional supplements that may help you with sleep. You may also want to get tested for sleep apnea, especially if you do not feel rested even after a full night of sleep.
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